"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.
As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq. We will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government. There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments. But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.
After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country. As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.
Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."
It's worth reading the speech in its entirety, because there are other very good things in it. President Obama addressed the people of Iraq directly, and I thought that both what he said and the fact that he spoke to them were very good. I was moved by his words to the men and women who have served in Iraq, and by this promise: "You and your families have done your duty - now a grateful nation must do ours." I was also very glad that he mentioned the nearly five million Iraqi refugees:
"Diplomacy and assistance is also required to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. These men, women and children are a living consequence of this war and a challenge to stability in the region, and they must become a part of Iraq’s reconciliation and recovery. America has a strategic interest – and a moral responsibility – to act."
But the announcement of a date certain for the withdrawal both of combat troops and of all troops means more to me than anything. This horrible mistake of a war has cost so many people so much. It should never have been started. It will not be over for the Iraqis in 2011. But it will, at last, be over for us.